Civil society research and Marcellus Shale natural gas development: results of a survey of volunteer water monitoring organizations

  • Kirk Jalbert
  • Abby J. Kinchy
  • Simona L. Perry


This paper reports the results of a survey of civil society organizations that are monitoring surface water for impacts of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania and New York. We argue that enlisting volunteers to conduct independent monitoring is one way that civil society organizations are addressing knowledge gaps and the “undone science” of surface water quality impacts related to gas extraction. The survey, part of an ongoing 2-year study, examines these organizations' objectives, monitoring practices, and financial, technical, and institutional support networks. We find that water monitoring organizations typically operate in networks of two main types: centralized networks, with one main “hub” organization connecting many chapter groups or teams, and decentralized networks, consisting primarily of independent watershed associations and capacity building organizations. We also find that there are two main orientations among water monitoring groups. Roughly, half are advocacy-oriented, gathering data in order to improve regulation, support litigation, and change industry behavior. We characterize the other half as knowledge-oriented, gathering data in order to protect natural resources through education and awareness. Our analysis finds that many monitoring programs function relatively independently of government and university oversight supported instead by a number of capacity building organizations in the field. We argue that this reflects neoliberal tendencies toward increased public responsibility for environmental science. We also find that new participants in the field of water monitoring, mainly large environmental NGOs integral to the operations of centralized networks, are shifting monitoring programs towards more advocacy-oriented objectives. We believe this shift may impact how civil society water monitoring efforts interact with regulatory bodies, such as by taking normative positions and using volunteer-collected data to advocate for policy change.


Citizen science Water quality monitoring Natural gas extraction Marcellus shale Neoliberalism 


  1. ALLARM (2012) “Marcellus Shale gas extraction: a study design and protocol for volunteer monitoring.” Carlisle PA. Accessed 7 July 2013
  2. Anderson DP, Cobb J, Korpela E, Lebofsky M, Werthimer D (2002) SETI@home: an experiment in public-resource computing. Commun ACM 45(11):56–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brasier K, Lee B, Stedman R, Weigle J (2011) Local champions speak out: Pennsylvania's Community Watershed Organizations. In: Morton LW, Brown S (eds) The citizen effect: pathways for getting to better water quality. Springer, New York, pp 190–206. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-7282-8_11
  4. Brown P (2007) Toxic exposures: contested illnesses and the environmental health movement. Columbia University, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Castree N (2010) Neoliberalism and the biophysical environment: a synthesis and evaluation of the research. Environ Soc Adv Res 1(1):5–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohn JP (2008) Citizen science: can volunteers do real research? Bioscience 58(3):192–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Conemaugh Valley Conservancy (2011) Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team 2011 Annual Report. Accessed 7 July 2013
  8. EPA (2013) “Monitoring and Assessing Water Quality - Volunteer Monitoring.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 7 July 2013
  9. Finewood MH, Stroup LJ (2012) Fracking and the neoliberalization of the hydro-social cycle in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. J Contemp Water Res Educ 147(1):72–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Floress K, Prokopy LS, Allred SB (2011) It's who you know: social capital, social networks, and watershed groups. Soc Nat Resour 24(9):871–886CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frickel S, Vincent MB (2007) Hurricane Katrina, contamination, and the unintended organization of ignorance. Technol Soc 29(2):181–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frickel S, Gibbon S, Howard J, Kempner J, Ottinger G, Hess D (2010) Undone science: charting social movement and civil society challenges to research agenda setting. Sci Technol Hum Values 35(4):444–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hess DJ (2009) The potentials and limitations of civil society research: getting undone science done. Sociol Inq 79(3):306–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kelso M (2012) “How Many MS Permits Are There in PA?” Newsletter. FracTracker Alliance. Pittsburgh, PA. Accessed 7 July 2013
  15. Kleinman DL, Vallas SP (2001) Science, capitalism, and the rise of the ‘knowledge worker’: the changing structure of knowledge production in the United States. Theory Soc 30:451–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lave R (2012) Neoliberalism and the production of environmental knowledge. Environ Soc Adv Res 3(1):19–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lee V (1994) “Volunteer monitoring: a brief history.” In: The Volunteer Monitor. United States Environmental Protection Agency, vol. 6(1):14Google Scholar
  18. LWA (2012) “Marcellus Shale Monitoring Program Launched”. Currents Newsletter: Winter edition. Loyalhanna Watershed Association. Accessed 7 July 2013
  19. Nature Abounds (2013) “Senior Environmental Corps.” Accessed 7 July 2013
  20. Nerbomme J, Nelson K (2004) Volunteer macroinvertebrate monitoring in the United States: resource mobilization and comparative state structures. Soc Nat Resour 17(9):817–839CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. O'Rourke D, Macey GP (2003) Community environmental policing: assessing new strategies of public participation in environmental regulation. J Policy Anal Manag 22(3):383–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ottinger G (2009) Buckets of resistance: standards and the effectiveness of citizen science. Science, Technology & Human Values 35(2):244–270. doi: 10.1177/0162243909337121, CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Overdevest C, Mayer B (2008) Harnessing the power of information through community monitoring: insights from social science. Texas Law Rev 86(7):1493–1526Google Scholar
  24. PA DEP (2013) Citizen's Volunteer Monitoring Program. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Conservation and Restoration. Accessed 7 July 2013
  25. PALMS (2010) “What's Wet Summer 2010.” Official Newsletter of the Pennsylvania Lake Management Society. Summer edition. Accessed 7 July 2013
  26. Pennsylvania Environmental Digest (2011) “Governor's Budget Tuesday, How Will It Compare To Last 8 Years?” Press Release. March 6. Accessed 7 July 2013
  27. Pfeffer MJ, Wagenet LP (2007) Volunteer environmental monitoring, knowledge creation and citizen–scientist interaction. In: Pretty J, Ball A et al (eds) The SAGE handbook of environment and society. Sage, London, pp 235–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Savan B, Morgan AJ, Gore C (2003) Volunteer environmental monitoring and the role of the universities: the case of Citizens' Environment Watch. Environ Manag 31(5):561–568. doi: 10.1007/s00267-002-2897-y Google Scholar
  29. Soeder DJ, Kappel WM (2009) Water resources and natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale. [Reston, Va.]: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed 7 July 2013
  31. Stedman R, Lee B, Brasier K, Weigle JL, Higdon F (2009) Cleaning up water? or building rural community? Community Watershed Organizations in Pennsylvania. Rural Sociol 74(2):178–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Trout Unlimited (2013) “Marcellus Shale Project.” Accessed 7 July 2013
  33. Wilson D (2002) “Community Based Water Monitoring and Beyond a Case Study: Pennsylvania.” Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation. Accessed 7 July 2013

Copyright information

© AESS 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirk Jalbert
    • 1
  • Abby J. Kinchy
    • 1
  • Simona L. Perry
    • 2
  1. 1.Science and Technology Studies DepartmentRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA
  2. 2.c.a.s.e. Consulting ServicesMontgomery VillageUSA

Personalised recommendations